An Excerpt from ‘Hades, Loneliest of the Gods’

This is the episode where Hades actually kidnaps Persephone… He saw her some while ago in the meadow with friends and she is as fascinated by him as if he were a new breed of wild animal she has discovered. Having lived alone in the Underworld for centuries, with only the dead for company, his powers of speech are rusty and minimal. He can barely talk.

She treats him as a pet. She leaves his food and drink at the edge of the copse. He takes them, both to be obliging and to keep her coming there. It is clear she feels compassion for him, the pity of a superior being for a thing of little understanding, or for something misshapen.

What does he feel for her?

In the daytime, when he sees her bright hair, a colour of which he could never have conceived, and the clear blue of her eyes, the apricot tints of her skin, he is bemused, befuddled, in thrall. He watches her slim, honey-coloured arm, dappled with shadow as she reaches into the long, lush weeds with his bread and milk. He is so close that he can see the tiny golden hairs covering her forearms like the floss on a peach; he holds his breath, lest the coarse air from his lungs stir that fine down. She does not see him, but her proximity causes a lurch of his senses. He feels he may swoon. Or roar. The loose front of her dress gapes wide. He cannot look. He cannot not look.

Ohhh…

He wants her but he does not want to scare her.

At night, when she is away, he gibbers to himself and capers in the moon-washed meadow, consumed by lust.

When finally he acts it is because he can do no other. He has watched. He has waited. He has been pushed beyond the endurance of man or beast. He has been torn for so long: between the need to leave, to find again his dark kingdom where he can stand upright and move with pride, and the impossibility of losing her with her brightness and joy, her kindness and warmth.

She leans into the darkness with her offering. As usual she peers into the tangle of brambles and ferns hoping to see him. She has no idea he is so near; her eyes, attuned to light, do not see his mass within the black shadows of the undergrowth. Until he moves. Snap. Grip. And his hand has her slender arm caught within it. It surrounds her wrist like a manacle. There is a moment when they both look in shock at the ebony of his hand against her pallor. Their heads lift. Eyes meet and hold. He watches her expression shift from calm to unease. He tries to soothe her. Clumsily, he reaches out to stroke, further up her arm. His mouth opens to speak but though he knows the words, can hear them, deep and comforting – bell-like – inside his head, his lips and tongue feel swollen, spill out on a spray of spittle:

‘Gnhnnn…’

It has been so long since he has had to talk. He cannot remember how.

Abruptly he seizes her, lifts her up in his arms and runs, stooping low through the dappled glade. He runs like never before, the hounds of desperation snapping at his heels. At some time he registers that she has stopped struggling, has perhaps lost consciousness. Though he runs all day, the madness in his head driving him to exposure in the sunlight, no one notices him, or if they do they see merely am shadow, as if they have blinked once, too long, or a curtain has dropped quickly and then been snatched aside. Perhaps the horror of his crime renders him invisible, as if it has pushed him out of step with ordinary happenings in an ordinary world. So he runs, in the gap between reality and nightmare, and is not seen.

It is night when he approaches the pit. He is limping and footsore, cannot yet face the long climb down with a burden, however light he finds her. Gently he lays her down on a bed of leaf-mould. The moon, swimming large above them, drains her skin of warmth. Frightened, he sees the blueness of her lips, the silvery patina glossing her bare arms, her high forehead. He chafes her long narrow hands, her tiny feet that fill him with a strange tenderness. He examines the toenails. There are scars, small hard patches on her soles that seem to him even more exquisite than the perfection of her nose, the long curve of her neck.

Now that she is down on the ground, not far from the edge of the pit, she seems so complete, so isolated in her cocoon of otherness, that he dare not touch her. He looks at his huge hands and feet, engrained with dirt. His hair, hanging down to his waist, is matted and lumpy with burrs and pieces of twig and bramble. He can smell himself, acrid and pungent as a he-goat. His sex stirs amidst its matted nest of hair. With shame, he turns away.

She has been watching between her eyelashes. When he turns, she scrambles to her feet, lurches into a run. It happens so fast, her tumbling flight, the ground opening up beneath her feet and

‘Nooooooo …’

He rediscovers this word, born from horror, and hurtles down after her.

Like a candle-flame he sees her flickering below him. Turning and turning. Down and down. His mind reaches out. Gathers the reins of power over earth and dust, root and rock. Weaves a mattress, a hasty web to catch her in, to cradle her to safety.

‘Oh my love, love, love,’ he thinks but cannot say.

The shock of it all has left her stunned. Her face is as white as those of the familiar dead. Only her hair, her extraordinary hair, glows with its own fire and sparks with life. He reaches out a hand to touch it, withdraws as if burnt. She turns her eyes on him and her look strikes darts through him, bewildered and lost and, most of all, afraid.